By Valerie Kazarian, Staff Writer
Andrew Bossie, a USM alumnus from 2007, was at the forefront of state legislation that became the centerpiece of Maine’s college affordability strategy. Bossie, a political science major, had helped create the Opportunity Maine Tax Credit program that offers refunds of state income taxes with the potential of eliminating, over 10 years, the entire student loan amount.
Bossie, a native of Caribou, Maine, is from a lower middle-class family and knew he was going to have to pay his own way through college. The oldest of four children, he was a first-generation student who worked and took out student loans to stay in college. Although he started as a theater major in 2003, by the following year he found himself drawn to a citizen’s initiative to prevent discrimination in employment and housing to Maine’s LGBTQ+ community, and his life in community activism began.
That initiative passed and Bossie tuned his thoughts to other social justice concerns. He knew his own student debt was growing. Still a student, he watched as students dropout of school because of debt and his sister had postponed her own college education because of affordability concerns. Through his participation in the 2004 initiative, Bossie had learned a lot about Maine’s citizen initiative process and made important connections.
Bossie organized a group to “think up legislation,” he said, to prevent Maine’s brain drain – young, educated people who leave the state to find employment elsewhere.
“We wanted to create legislation that addressed student debt for those who went to school in Maine, live in Maine and work in Maine,” Bossie said. “The people of Maine want to be fair and to help each other, so a fundamentally fair piece of legislation had a good chance of winning.”
Bossie knew that a citizens initiative would require sixty thousand petition signatures. He had contacts at all fourteen of Maine’s colleges and universities due to his previous initiative work to help collect those. Each school was charged with getting five thousand signatures – more than the number needed – and when that was accomplished, he was able to coordinate moving the petition through the legislative process.
Since graduating from USM, Bossie has worked in leadership roles with several Maine social justice organizations including Opportunity Maine, the Maine AIDS Alliance, and Maine Citizens for Clean Elections. He is now the Executive Director of Friends of Katahdin Woods and Waters.
In 2008, the college loan reimbursement initiative passed unanimously in the Maine State House and by a two thirds margin in the Senate and “An Act to Allow Tax Credit for College Loan Repayment” was adopted. This act, popularly known as the Opportunity Maine Tax Credit program, has been amended several times since 2008 for fine tuning but it remains the only college debt program for the majority of students in Maine. There is currently an attempt to further amend the program to streamline the
Six months after graduation, USM students will be making their first student loan payment. By taking advantage of the Opportunity Maine Tax Credit, that loan burden can be significantly reduced or, in some cases, eliminated. According to Forbes, the average student loan debt in 2016 was $37,172, but Maine’s program promises to reimburse “student loan payments for college graduates who live and work in Maine,” according to the website.
A student who has graduated from a Maine college or university and continues to live in Maine, applies for a job with a Maine employer. All Maine employers are included in this program. As an employee earns a salary, state income taxes are deducted. When the state income tax forms are completed and filed each spring, the employee may be reimbursed with a tax credit for their student loan payments for each year. The tax refund is equal to the amount of the loan paid to the lender minus the amount owed to the state for income tax. The formula is this: Total paid in loan payment for the year – state income tax owed = refund from the state in tax credit.
“To take advantage of the credit, a taxpayer completes the credit worksheet on their Maine income tax return,” said David Heidrich, Director of Communications for the Maine Department of Administrative and Financial Services. “If they’re using a commercially available tax preparation software, it will generally prompt the user to consider completing this worksheet if their tax situation seems to warrant doing so,” he said.
Those who graduated prior to 2008 do not qualify and each graduation year has a different application form. While there is a cap on how much will be reimbursed, and there are certain conditions for qualifying for this credit, this is one way to alleviate all or part of the loan repayment burden. The program is set up to pay off the average student loan in ten years.
Heidrich also said that his office is attempting to replace the program.
“This legislation was a common-sense proposal to simplify the Opportunity Maine program intended to make it easier for both taxpayers and Maine Revenue Services to calculate the credit amount,” Heidrich said. The proposal, Heidrich said, failed in the legislature.